Facing the West
Restoration through Reform

 
What was truly remarkable, after this long series of challenges, was that the Qing dynasty did not collapse right away, but managed to survive for the whole of the nineteenth century and on until 1912. In partial explanation, Qing statesmen described this survival as a “restoration” (zhongxing), a venerable phrase frequently applied to other dynasties that had managed to weather waves of crises and restore moral and political order to the empire. The idea of restoration had both a nostalgic and a bittersweet ring to it: those past restorations, although significant, had been impermanent, for each of the “restored” dynasties had eventually passed away. Unlike those of the past, moreover, the Qing restoration took place without strong imperial leadership. Emperor Tongzhi, whose name is given to this restoration period, was only five years old at his accession to the throne in 1861, and died in 1875 before having had a chance to exercise personal power. His “reign” was presided over by his mother, Cixi, acting as regent, by his uncle Prince Gong ..., by one or two influential grand councilors, but above all by an exceptional group of provincial officials who had risen to prominence fighting the Taiping, the Nian, or the Muslim rebels. Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang, and Zuo Zongtang were probably the best known of these, but there were scores of others of comparable skill. Acting sometimes in concert and sometimes independently, these officials managed to reinvest the Qing dynasty with a sense of purpose, shore up the economy, and develop significant new institutions. This was a remarkable achievement in the context of what had appeared to be a disintegrating Chinese state. [SMC, 186]

The Confucian doctrine that Zeng [Guofan] espoused was an austere yet eclectic one that sought to reconcile three approaches to Confucian truth. One approach insisted on the primacy of moral principle and personal ethical values acquired through education; one espoused the methods of textual scrutiny and rigor that had come to dominate kaozheng thinking in Qianlong’s reign; one believed in the “practical” learning of statecraft thinkers like He Changling, seeking a sturdy foundation on which to rebuild a sound and honest administrative structure. [SMC, 187]
 
 
Despite the weight Zeng placed on traditional scholarly and moral values, he was not a simple-minded conservative. For instance, he not only encouraged the use of the Western-officered Ever-Victorious Army, he was also quick to see the value of making selective use of Western technology. The first person to present Zeng with convincing arguments for such a policy was the scholar Feng Guifen ... [who] argued that China must learn to “strengthen itself” (ziqiang) by including foreign languages, mathematics, and science in the curriculum: Chinese students excelling in these subjects should be granted the provincial examination degree.
 
China was a hundred times larger than France and two hundred times larger than England, Feng wrote, so “why are they small and yet strong? Why are we large and yet weak?” The answer lay in the greater skills of foreigners in four main areas: utilizing all their manpower resources, exploiting their soil to the full, maintaining close bonds between ruler and subjects, and ensuring “the necessary accord of word with deed.”
 
In order to start building China’s strength, Feng argued, “what we then have to learn from the barbarians is only one thing, solid ships and effective guns.” This could be achieved by establishing shipyards and arsenals in selected ports, and by hiring foreign advisers to train Chinese artisans to manufacture such wares in China. Since Feng felt that “the intelligence and wisdom of the Chinese are necessarily superior to those of the various barbarians,” the conclusion was clear: China would first learn from foreigners, then equal them, and finally surpass them. [SMC, 188-9]
 
  • Was this an accurate assessment of the problem?
  • Did he develop the right solution?
 
 
 
 
The events of the 1850s had forced China’s leaders to acknowledge the existence of a wider world, and they slowly developed a number of devices to help them interact with it. The first of these had been the foreign-managed Inspectorate of Customs, created in 1854 as a response to the threat of Taiping attack on Shanghai, and designed to collect tariffs equitably and generate new revenues for the Qing from the import dues on foreign goods. The allied British and American occupation of Peking in 1860 and the court’s flight to Manchuria necessitated a second institution that would provide some more formal means of negotiating with foreigners. The Qing solution, after protracted debate, was to establish a special new agency in 1861: the Office for the Management of the Business of All Foreign Countries, usually known by its Chinese abbreviation, the Zongli Yamen. This was the first significant institutional innovation in the central Peking bureaucracy that the Qing had made since Emperor Yongzheng created the nucleus of the Grand Council in 1729. [SMC, 191]
 
 
[In 1862 Prince Gong, the de facto head of the Zongli Yamen,] obtained the court’s permission to open an interpreter’s school in Peking. Its small body of students, aged fourteen and under, would be chosen from each of the eight banners and paid a stipend to learn English and French. ... New government-sponsored language schools opened in Shanghai, Canton, and Fuzhou, and in 1867 Prince Gong and [his second-in-command] Wenxiang began a campaign to transform the Peking school for interpreters into a full-fledged college. They proposed adding to the curriculum such subjects as mathematics, chemistry, geology, mechanics, and international law, and hiring foreigners as instructors. Despite vigorous protests from conservative senior officials that the Chinese had no need for “barbarians as teachers” to instruct them in “trifling arts,” ... the reformers carried the day. The college, with its new curriculum, was opened in February 1867 .... [SMC, 200]
 
 
Prince Gong on the Tongwen College
Three Memorials to the Throne
 
1861 Memorial
 
1865 Memorial
 
1866 Memorial
 
 
Response to the Unequal Treaties
1878 Circular to Chinese Ministers Abroad

7. As regards Jurisdiction, i.e. Exterritoriality. By the Treaties foreigners in China are not amenable to the jurisdiction of the Chinese authorities, i.e. they are exterritorialized. If they have disputes among themselves, their own authorities are to settle them; if they commit an offence, their own authorities are to punish them according to their own national laws. But foreigners claim much more than this: they interpret the extraterritorial privilege as meaning, not only that Chinese officials are not to control them, but that they may disregard and violate Chinese regulations with impunity. To this we cannot assent. China has not by any Treaty given foreigners permission to disregard or violate the laws of China: while residing in China they are as much bound to observe them as Chinese are; what has been conceded in the Treaties in this connection is merely that offenders shall be punished by their own national officials in accordance with their own national laws.

8. The “Most favored Nation” is found in all the Treaties, and it is well that it should be so, for it is difficult for China to distinguish between foreigners or say which belongs to which nationality; and so much is this so, that even non-Treaty Power foreigners are treated like the others. ... But foreign governments ... are not always fair in their interpretations of it. For example, if China for a consideration grants a certain country a new privilege on such and such conditions, this would be of the nature of a special concession for a special consideration. ... [But] there are some who, while demanding the privilege, refuse to be bound by the conditions attached to it. In a word, as regards this “most favored nation” clause, we hold that if one country desires to participate in the privileges conceded to another country, it must consent to be bound by the conditions attached to them and accepted by that other. [DC, First Edition, 157-9]

 
 
 
Throughout the 1860s, as officials from the Zongli Yamen struggled to understand their new world and to adjust to it, violence by the Chinese against the Western missionaries formed a harsh accompaniment. In Sichuan and Guizhou and Guangdong, in the rich Grand Canal commercial city of Yangzhou and the barren hills of Shaanxi, missionaries and their converts were harassed, beaten, and occasionally killed, their property threatened or destroyed. Finally, in the summer of 1870 in Tianjin, the very city that had given its name to the 1858 treaties and where many foreign diplomats had made their homes during the protracted negotiations over residence in Peking, the violence burst into hideous prominence.
 
 
For months rumors had spread through the city that the Christians had been maiming and torturing children, and practicing every kind of sexual aberration. The Catholics, whose huge new Tianjin church had been built — despite public protest — on the site of a former imperial park and temple, came in for the worst abuse. Seeing himself as the Catholics’ main protector, the French consul Henri Fontanier protested several times to the city officials: but they did little to calm the agitation, and large crowds of Chinese continued to menace the foreigners. Frustrated and angry, Fontanier, two pistols tucked into his belt and accompanied by an aide with a drawn sword, rushed into the magistrate’s yamen. Furious at the Chinese magistrate’s bland prevarication, Fontanier drew one pistol and fired; missing the magistrate, he killed a bystander. A crowd of hostile Chinese, already assembled outside the office, exploded with their own rage. Fontanier and his aide were killed along with several French traders and their wives. The church was burned. The convent of the Catholic Sisters of Mercy was broken into by a mob, and the ten sisters there were attacked, stripped, and killed. By day’s end, sixteen French men and women were dead, along with three Russians whom the crowd had thought were French. [SMC, 196]
 
A Chinese View of Christianity
The Roman Catholic religion had its origin from Jesus, and is practiced by all the Western countries, and taught by them to others; it exhorts men to virtue. The founder was nailed by wicked men on a cross, and cut to death. His disciples then scattered about the world to disseminate the doctrine. The Principal is called the Fa Wang Fu [the Kingly Father of the Doctrine]. Sexual congress without shame is called “a public meeting,” or “a benevolent society.” When they marry they use no go-between, and make no distinctions between old and young. Any man and woman who like may come together, only must first do obeisance to the bishop, and pray to Shangdi [God]. The bride must invariably first sleep with the spiritual teacher, who takes the first fruits of her virginity. ... When these [foreign] devils open a chapel, they begin with their female converts by administering a pill. When they have swallowed it, they are beguiled, and allow themselves to be defiled. Then after the priest has outraged them, he recites an incantation. The placenta then is easily drawn out, and is chopped up to make an ingredient for their hocussing drugs.
       At Tientsin [i.e. Tianjin] they used constantly to beguile and entice away young children in order to scoop out their eyes and hearts. When the people discovered it, they tore down their tall foreign houses, and found heaped up inside bodies of kidnapped children, boys and girls.
       All these facts should make us careful not to incur similar dangers. We should unite hands and hearts to keep out the evil before it is upon us.
       His Excellency the Commander-in-chief for the Canton province. [DC, 153-4]